A Walk in the Forest with Elio and Carlos

Back on the 1st of May, I took a walk with Arbey Mejia, Beneficio San Vicente’s new director of certified coffees. BSV’s new focus on certifications, especially organic, allows new opportunities for farmers who are growing at lower altitudes to add value to their crop. Another side effect is farmers who are already familiar with specialty coffee production, are inspired to explore organic farming practices. That afternoon, we walked straight up the side of the mountain in Los Andes, Santa Barbara, where we work with Elio Diaz at Piedras Amarillas, as well as a farmer new to specialty, Carlos Damian.

Golden yellow clay switchbacks, turned to plateaus with lush purple wildflowers and forest raspberry ground cover, with loads of the unique avocado variety “Aguacate Anise” (don’t eat it, just trust me), and corn rows lining the perimeter of the farms that take up residence. Misting rain, we talked feverishly about the hikes here in this region of Honduras, contrasting with the towering mountains just outside Vancouver. Our visit was mainly to take a look at Elio’s towering bourbon plots past the 1700meter mark, and after that, continue around the side of the mountain to Carlos’ 1 manzana (70% of a hectare)  of 5 year old Pacas and Bourbon varieties.  


Carlos mainly works in vegetable farming - his crop is sold in one fell swoop to San Pedro Sula (the industrial capital) as well as locally for sale. He uses this as a bumper crop but he says there is more money in coffee for him. Especially in specialty. Surrounded by undulating ridges of mountain pine, his Pacas and Bourbon is lush and full of healthy production. Its a really beautiful thing to see in a world where climate change is  unforgiving to a lot of producers. He's got only small amounts but we expect next year you will all get to try it for yourselves.  
This will mark the third harvest since Elio decided to sell his coffee as specialty. This happened as a result of a perfect storm of factors - having coffee he thought could be better than what he would normally sell to the local market, and getting a friendly push from his cousin, Ramon (whom we also work with through his farm at La Benedicion).
These 2 gentlemen, Elio and Carlos, are relatively new to the idea that their coffee could be sold to you, wherever you may be buying our coffee (Vancouver? California? Toronto?). They are inspired by the idea that you could know their names and begin to recognize when their coffee is back on our menu each year. As we sat in the forest at the end of our visit in Los Andes, Arbey and I began to geek out on various fungi that were growing on Elio’s bourbon trees. He explained to me that this pink substance was perfectly harmless and even symbiotic.   
Today, the market price of coffee is the same as it was in the 90s. That’s highly problematic when you factor in inflation, and the fact that the market price is in no way whatsoever tied to the actual cost of farming coffee. The mere act of selling even a portion of your production as specialty to a buyer like us can be the difference between making ends meet, or not. We are so lucky to have the opportunity to work with people like Elio, Carlos and other smallholder producers. You could say working with and committing to buying these coffees each year is also a sort of symbiotic relationship.